The Department of Agriculture is urging farmers to investigate birth defects in calves or lambs this spring following the identification of the Schmallenberg virus in Co Tipperary and Co Wexford.

Schmallenberg is a midge-borne virus that can cause birth deformities in calves and lambs.

The Department’s regional veterinary laboratories (RVLs) identified Schmallenberg in a calf in Tipperary, while there were two outbreaks in sheep in Co Wexford.


The RVLs urged farmers to submit deformed calves and lambs to them for testing to increase the surveillance for both Schmallenberg and the potentially more impactful bluetongue virus.

Both viruses can result in the birth of deformed off-spring. Bluetongue has been detected in the UK and in Europe in the past year.

Bluetongue can cause a wide spectrum of clinical presentations and it would risk causing significant animal welfare impacts, as well as trade challenges if it became established here.

Both viruses can cause a wide variety of birth deformities, especially deformed limbs, spinal curvature, shortened lower jaw and domed skulls.

Some of these birth deformities can make natural calving or lambing very difficult and farmers should be alert to an increased risk of these ill-effects this season.

A statement from the Department on the viruses said bluetongue could come to Ireland through the wind-borne spread of infected midges, through the importation of infected animals or contaminated fomites or animal-derived biological material (eg, blood, semen).

Farmers are advised to be vigilant and to ask their vet to refer any birth deformities in sheep or cattle to the nearest RVL for investigation.


Schmallenberg was first detected in Ireland in 2012. It spread across Europe, carried by wind-borne infected midges.

In Ireland, as with other affected countries, the impact of the disease was short term after immunity built up in cattle and sheep through exposure and vaccination.

Since then, there have been a small number of outbreaks.

This has been a low-impact disease overall, except on a small number of farms where animals were infected at the stage of pregnancy when the foetus is most susceptible to the effects of the virus, which resulted in the birth of deformed offspring.